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Big Pharma Corruption: A Detailed Account of Aspen in Southeast Asia

What’s your view on big pharma? You probably don’t have a positive opinion of it. That’s because the pharmaceutical industry is rife with corruption, especially in low-income countries in SE Asia.

The price of generic drugs has increased dramatically over the last few years due to Big Pharma companies engaging in corrupt practices. In 2017, Aspen Pharmacare was admitted to overcharging British hospitals for cancer drugs.

So what is big pharma corruption about Aspen in Southeast Asia? And what can be done to stop these various corruption scandals?  Let’s get into it.

History of Big Pharma Corruption 

Big Pharma has a long history of corruption that goes back to the Opium Wars of the early 19th Century when Britain overruled China’s desire to ban opium by taking over Hong Kong.

As late as the 1920s the pharmaceutical industry was largely unregulated. Companies were allowed to sell products without testing them for safety or efficacy.

The public was largely unaware of this. But when it became apparent that many of these drugs were dangerous, they began to protest and demand more regulation.

The 20th Century

Historically many Asian countries were colonized. The Philippines and South Vietnam were controlled by the U.S whilst Ceylon (Sri Lanka), India, Singapore, and Hong Kong were all British colonies. 

This means that many of the laws and cultures around drugs in the 20th Century also applied to Asia. 

In 1938, Congress passed the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. This required that all new drugs be tested for safety before being sold to consumers. The Food and Drug Administration was also created at this time.

Big Pharma Corruption in Southeast Asia

Aspen has faced allegations of price-gouging in countries like Greece, Italy, and Turkey. In Southeast Asia, often dubbed the ‘pharmaceutical sweet spot’ by industry insiders, the situation is no better.

All major companies are increasingly turning to the region. This is due to its large population and high disease burden. Due to poor regulation and low incomes, people in these countries have come to rely heavily on generic drugs. 

These are crude copies of legitimate drugs. It means simple medicine like cough syrup can turn out to be deadly.  But Big Pharma companies have taken advantage of this reliance. They use political lobbying and bribery. This means they can cover up their corruption. 

There’s also a high risk of hospital failure in Asian countries. Facilities are frequently not up to scratch. 

Aspen Pharmacare Admitted To Overcharging Hospitals for Cancer Drugs

Aspen Pharmacare is a  pharmaceutical company. It is one of the largest healthcare companies in Africa, and it’s been expanding rapidly into Asia as well. You can read our extensive blog on how they fell short of standards. 

There are allegations against Aspen in multiple regions. This includes Australia, Fiji, and Sri Lanka.  Some of this money has had to be paid back. 

Aspen Also Faced Allegations of Price-gouging Across the World

Aspen, the South African pharmaceutical company has faced allegations of price-gouging in countries like Greece, Italy, and Turkey. It has also been accused of price-gouging in the UK.

Aspen was found guilty of price-gouging in those three countries. This is because it sold a drug called metoprolol tartrate to Italian patients at an inflated rate. This is an anti-anxiety drug used to treat chest pain related to heart problems.

Drug Companies Are Increasingly Turning to South East Asia

Drug companies are increasingly turning to the region due to its large populations and high disease burden. Southeast Asia is home to many low-income countries, and it’s an important market for the drug industry.

The region contains some of the world’s fastest-growing economies. But it also has a large number of poor people who need access to medicines and healthcare services, including vaccines.

These facts make Southeast Asia a good place for Big Pharma to invest. There are plenty of potential customers who need treatment for all kinds of diseases (including some that have no cure). But what about conflicts of interest?

Relying Heavily on Generics

Generic drugs are cheaper than brand-name drugs, and they’re available in many countries. But not all generics are the same. In Southeast Asia and other developing regions, people spend less on medications because they rely heavily on generics.

These medications can be made by large manufacturing companies that make branded products too, or they may be made in a different factory. Therefore they have lower standards. As a result, these “generics” aren’t always as effective as their branded counterparts.

This means that when you take them for your blood pressure or diabetes control or whatever else it is you need them for, you might not get the full effect of your medicine.

Big Pharma Companies Rely on Political Lobbying and Bribery

Big Pharma companies have taken advantage of this reliance. They’ve used a mixture of political lobbying and bribery. Drug prices are notoriously high in Southeast Asia. This is where many people do not have health insurance and must pay for their treatment.

The United States is often called the most corrupt country on earth. But South East Asia is arguably worse. It’s easy for big pharma in Asia to use their money and influence. They can increase drug prices because corruption is more widespread and how business is conducted.

These companies can then maximize profits. They can charge more than they’re worth or encourage doctors to prescribe them over cheaper alternatives.

In some cases, these tactics include bribing government officials. This way they’ll prioritize certain drugs when making policy decisions.

They also include passing laws that make generic versions of their products illegal. Therefore, anyone who wants access will only be able to buy them through authorized dealers like themselves (like big pharma companies).

Aspen Has Managed To Increase Their Prices by as Much as 1,000%

When you go to the pharmacy to pick up your prescription drug, you might be shocked at how much it costs. You may have noticed that your insurance company has been paying a higher and higher copay.

However, the price of the medication itself is increasing by leaps and bounds. The reason for this is a common one. Pharmaceutical companies including Aspen are working together with insurance companies. They grow their profit margins by implementing a practice known as cost shifting.

Cost shifting occurs when something that would normally be paid for by an insurance company is instead shifted. In this case, other patients or taxpayers pay for government-funded healthcare programs. These include Medicare and Medicaid.

In short, cost shifting means charging more than what someone should pay. Especially if they weren’t receiving discounted healthcare from private insurers.

This allows pharmaceutical companies to make more money on lower sales. This is because even though there may be fewer people buying medications overall (due to discounts on premium plans), each sale still nets them nearly as much revenue since their prices are so high!

The problem with cost shifting can also affect people who don’t rely on private insurance plans. If they’re uninsured or underinsured (meaning they don’t have enough coverage), then these individuals will end up paying higher prices.

A New Wave of Corruption Is Set To Unfold in Southeast Asia

In the coming years, a new wave of corruption is set to unfold in Southeast Asia. Millions of lives are at stake.

The pharmaceutical industry has grown increasingly corrupt over the decades.  Now it’s turning its sights on Southeast Asia as an ideal region for profit-making. One reason why is a large disease burden.

There’s also poor regulation and a lack of transparency. All characteristics have made the region a hotbed for corruption within the pharmaceutical industry.

The drug companies including Aspen have taken advantage of these weaknesses by engaging in political lobbying efforts and bribery at all levels.

They’ve also made deals with other international players (like governments) who will help them secure lucrative contracts. All while marginalizing local communities or even endangering their health if needed to maintain a profit margin.

The Pharmaceutical Industry Is Rife With Corruption in SE Asia

The pharmaceutical industry is rife with corruption scandals. There are many documented cases of bribery, kickbacks, and falsified research related to the practice of medicine.

In Southeast Asia specifically, corruption in the pharmaceutical industry is most common in low-income countries. There is little regulation and oversight, particularly regarding Aspen. There are corrupt officials everywhere.

In these regions, drugs are often tested on poor people. They then have little recourse against drug companies’ unethical practices.

Big Pharma Corruption is a Big Problem 

The pharmaceutical industry has a long history of corruption. In the last few years, big Pharma companies have taken advantage of the reliance on generics in SE Asia by increasing their prices by as much as 1,000%. This new wave of corruption is set to unfold in Southeast Asia over the coming years, with millions of lives at stake.

For more on our cause to end big pharma corruption be sure to contact us today.

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